I recently came across the name of Luca Manning through a tweet by UK vocalist Ian Shaw. I thought if Ian recommends someone, he or she must be worth checking out. So I contacted Luca and received his debut album which came out late last year. And guess what? It is full of surprises. The singer from Glasgow who is now based in London where he has opened for Georgie Fame and Becca Stevens, has come up with a wonderful collection of songs.
It seems that singing comes naturally for the 20-year old, his voice reminding me, if you need a comparison at all, of a young Chet Baker in phrasing and gentleness. His is an incredibly warm and delicate instrument, having the very rare quality of drawing you into his world. It’s a very direct, at times gut-wrenching voice, without any redundant gimmicks or bragging shenanigans. Mostly recorded with young pianist Fergus McCreadie, this almost feels like a 2020 version of the Irene Kral & Alan Broadbent duet masterpiece of 1974. And Luca also writes, too, the tender opening cut for example, “Our Journey”, which sets the mood and pace, more or less, for the entire album. There is an amazing warmth and comfort in his voice, which easily soars into higher echelons as well. “Stones Of Brodgar”, written by McCreadie and Fergus Hall, is a meditative piece echoing folk and jazz elements, held together expertly, naturally by voice and piano.
Luca also recorded two pieces out of the jazz standards canon, the Harold Arlen-composed title song, and “Mean To Me”, both executed as bravura performances. “All I wanted was honesty. I didn’t want multi-tracking or mixing, and I wanted a maximum of two or three takes”, he said in an interview for The Herold Scotland. And it works out perfectly well. It’s a pretty in-your-face production where voice and piano dream, dance, and play around right in front of you.
Another surprise is the choice of material. Luca handles the seldom-heard Betty Carter tune “Who What Why Where When” with astute finesse and he has added one of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs to his set, “Two Grey Rooms”, from Joni’s excellent “Night Ride Home” from 1991. When it comes to the part where he sings “….with a view…”, the most difficult part of the lyric I think, once again he masters it with staggering precision, not in a technical sense, more in an emotional persuasion that is clearly unheard of for such a young voice.
There is one song where Luca asked saxophonist Laura MacDonald to back him and escort him through his own piece “Rise”. And even though I’m still not a fan of scat singing, which Luca uses on a couple of tracks here and no doubt masters it, too, this is a remarkable debut. And what a joy it is to listen to the Scottish traditional “Loch Lomond”, rounding up this wonderful piece of work in the most affecting way.